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How Feasible is Antonio Villaraigosa’s 30/10 Gambit for Los Angeles Transit?

» Mayor of nation’s second-largest city fights to advance city’s transit planning… by twenty years. It’s a job that necessitates a national infrastructure bank that does not yet exist.

Forget that old cliché about Los Angeles. It’s not the old highway-obsessed metropolis it used to be. In fact, as L.A. matures, it’s densifying, shedding its abhorrence towards public transportation.

The region already has one of the most ambitious transit expansion plans in the country; a new light rail line to East L.A. opened last year, the Expo light rail line from downtown to Culver City is under construction, and dozens of other routes are in planning throughout Los Angeles County. The passage in November 2008 of Measure R, an additional half-cent sales tax for transit, means that these projects aren’t just conjectural.

But L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has always been a strong proponent of new rail and bus lines, isn’t satisfied by the thirty-year timetable that will be required to complete the projects lined up for $13.7 billion in local funding. (Measure R would also fund $27 billion in transit operations, maintenance, and roads projects.) Current financial assumptions indicate that the Mayor’s highest priority–an extension of the Westside subway (Purple Line) to Westwood–wouldn’t be complete until 2032. A fixed guideway link along I-405 between the San Fernando Valley and UCLA would have to wait until 2038.

For Mr. Villaraigosa, this situation isn’t feasible: he wants his subway as soon as possible, rather than force his city’s inhabitants to spend decades more in congestion. But over ten years, Measure R is only expected to bring in about $3 billion for transit capital projects–enough to build the first phase of the subway, but nothing else. Because the Metropolitan Transportation Authority represents L.A. County’s ten million inhabitants, not just the city’s four million, prioritizing a line that would provide service to a tiny percentage of the region’s overall geographic area would not be politically feasible.

In October last year, the mayor suggested an alternative: ask the federal government to loan Metro billions of dollars to complete the majority of the county’s transit projects, in the city and out, in ten years, rather then thirty. The transit authority would then pay Washington back for twenty more years as revenues from Measure R trickled in.

The 30/10 proposal would allow Metro to construct the full Westside extension, but also two easterly extensions of the Gold Line, two new branches for the Green Line, several busways in San Fernando Valley, a link along I-405, and new light rail lines downtown, along Crenshaw Boulevard, to Santa Monica, and via the West Santa Ana branch corridor. The West Santa Ana branch corridor would be served by commuter rail. All by 2020.

It was a brilliant solution to an intractable political problem by ensuring the extension of transit in corridors everywhere in the county within a tight time frame. The fight over which lines to prioritize would simply not have to happen.

This “big bang” strategy would not only dramatically improve the city’s public transportation system by opening rapid transit lines to areas of the county previously ignored, but also act as a stimulus for hundreds of thousands of construction workers currently out of work. But who in Washington would be ready to make such a deal? How serious was the mayor anyhow?

Considering the Mayor’s schedule over the past several weeks, it appears he’s dead-set on the proposal. Last week, he went to Washington to garner the support of several members of Congress, and got it, including from influential Oregon Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, who is currently running for reelection, announced that she would support the effort. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood signaled that he was open to the opportunity in a meeting in Los Angeles last month.

If the city is able to move forward on the 30/10 project, it will set quite an intriguing precedent for the dozens of other cities across the country currently considering major transit expansion proposals. The multi-billion-dollar bridge loan Mr. Villaraigosa hopes to have handed over to Metro would be a unique solution to a problem caused by limited short-term revenues. And it implies that Washington should get into the game of agreeing to act as an investment bank for municipalities that can guarantee a source of income over the long term.

If anything, L.A.’s proposal is the best example yet of a project that could really take advantage of a national infrastructure bank, which could provide low-interest loans to governmental agencies to pursue major projects of future importance. The bank would be able to rely on Measure R as an assurance that it will eventually get its money back, and L.A. will be able to benefit from a quick advancement of its rail and bus systems, creating a veritable rapid transit network that in the United States would rival only New York’s in route length.

But the national infrastructure bank does not yet exist. Nor does the Federal Transit Administration have the funds or mandate to pursue a similar policy. So, unless Congress acts on its own, Los Angeles’ transit plans will continue to be relegated to a thirty-year timetable.

Today, with one senator blocking funding for the Department of Transportation and 2,000 workers currently furloughed, it seems unlikely that politicians in Washington will be able to get their together well enough to fund transit at standard levels, let alone sponsor a national infrastructure bank.

That’s a disappointment, since the twelve projects Mayor Villaraigosa has selected for investment would each contribute to the creation of a strong transit system in America’s second city, something that’s been sorely lacking for decades.

Update, 21 March: The Source revealed last week the Mayor’s plan for the 30/10 project, demonstrating the planned expenditures as well as expected completion dates for each of the projects, as shown in the updated map above. Here are the basics:

  • Current long-range transportation plan assumes $18.3 billion in transit expenditures over 30 years. 65% of funds would come from Measure R, with 23% from New Starts and 12% from other sources.
  • The 30/10 Initiative would allow total expenditures to be reduced to $14.7 billion because of avoided inflation, since projects would be completed in ten years, twenty years ahead of schedule. More cost savings could also be possible because of a cheaper construction market.
    • Of that $14.7 billion, $5.8 billion is expected to be available from existing sources, with around $8.8 billion still necessary, which could be provided through a loan from the federal government.
    • Measure R would then pay back its $8.8 billion in debts for projects completed between 2010 and 2020 with $10.4 billion in tax revenue received between 2020 and 2040.

144 replies on “How Feasible is Antonio Villaraigosa’s 30/10 Gambit for Los Angeles Transit?”

Fantastic! I hope some other cities follow LA’s lead. Building transit one line at a time is never fast enough and only encourages dispute over which corridors are more important or effective. Building an entire network at once solves this problem, AND it gets transit ready faster.

This sounds like a good idea the Feds didn’t ask questions when it came to building the Interstate system so why should this not be any different? This would alos be far better then those hunderd billon dollar bailouts that they gave to all the big banks. The fed should have done something like this years ago.

The only “bias” here is the misguided anti-rail zealotry of the so-called Bus Riders “Union”.

That the BRU campaigned against Measure R, the only proposal on offer to grant them the “billions for buses” they had been stating on their t-shirts they want, shows how ineffective and irrelevant they have become to the transit planning discussion in Southern California.

More buses didn’t change the Bay Area back to a transit culture. Rapid Rail Transit did. Having lived in both areas, I can tell you with certainty that most Bay Area suburbanites won’t set foot on a bus, but they do ride BART.

I think this is a great idea. There’s not one reason on Earth why subway and LRT construction should take as long as it does. If New York City built its subway system at this pace between 1900 and 1950, it would be 1/10 the size it is now. L.A. needs to invest in fixed-guideway transit now; bus service can be dealt with later.

^^^ **facepalm** Susan, in the big city to your northwest we have our second LRT under construction, and a pair of BRT routes (if you can call them that) emerged this year. BRT is rarely ‘built-out’ with amenities and ease-of-use like rail transit is, the routes can be changed at a moment’s notice when budgets get tight, and they have poor operational economics since you cannot simply lash up an additional LRT car when demand warrants. I’ve never seen a bus that can carry 500 people, and adding bus capacity always necessitates adding bus drivers. This makes frequent and high-capacity service too expensive for transit agencies, and drives users away once cuts are made.

Oh, in addition buses will be stuck in traffic just like everyone else. At least in Minnesota, our express buses can hobble along the shoulder at 20 MPH while the main lanes are at a standstill. And don’t get me started on the local buses such as my #14 which stop at every block and take forever. I thought when I moved to the city that I’d take the bus more than when I was in the burbs… not so, when I can bike to work faster than the bus. Or 8 minutes to downtown by car vs 28 minutes by bus.

Yonah, I tend to agree with you the majority of the time, but your way off on this post. LACMTA is already proposing MASSIVE cuts in the county’s bus system in order to pay for the operating of the recent extensions of the Gold Line and future Expo Line. The Gold Line, which connects some of the densest areas in the region, has an operating subsidy of around 25 dollars per passenger per trip. The majority of the well-used bus lines in the system have subsidies of under 3 dollars. If the mayor continues with this plan, more service cuts will follow in order to pay to fiance and pay interest off the federal loans. Are a few poorly planed light rail and subway lines, whose planners seemed to disregard actual travel patterns in the region, worth decimating a bus system that serves hundreds of thousands of transit dependent riders?

Alternatively, Los Angeles could first build a word class BRT system with dedicated bus lanes on surface streets. The $13.7 billion in local funding from Measure R would more than pay for the construction of numerous high end BRT routes with full service amenities, dedicated lanes, and signal priority. These projects could be combined with streetscaping efforts and other improvements to give the BRT system more staying power. Freeway lanes, especially existing HOV lanes, could be converted into Bus Only Lanes or HOT lanes (this might be a better alternative if tolls were used to fund bus operations) and used for long distance express routes. The BRT and Freeway Express Routes could use double articulated buses that increase capacity without increasing the number of bus drivers. With the system in place, Los Angeles would have a world class bus system that both serves all of its transit dependent ridership and provides an alternative for driving. Once this system was in place, LA Metro planners could then reevaluate which corridors really need rail lines and build accordingly.

Dan –

I’m open to criticism of new rail construction — it is true that light rail is often far more expensive to build than bus rapid transit, even when BRT can provide almost-as-good service quality.

But I’m not sure where you’re getting your numbers. Look at Metro ridership. In January 2010, Metro provided 27.8 million rides on buses and 7.4 million rides on trains. That’s about a 3.75:1 ratio in favor of buses.

Meanwhile, in its FY 2010 budget, Metro allocates $1,296.3 million to bus operations ($976.3 m to Metro Bus and $320 m to municipal operator and paratransit) and $264.4 million to rail operations (not including Metrolink in either dataset). That is a 4.9:1 ratio in favor of buses.

In other words, buses are more expensive to operate per passenger, point blank.

Now, if you want to get more specific, please, I’ll indulge you: The budget provides lots of juicy details. In terms of cost per revenue service hour or cost per revenue service mile, buses outperform rail, but there’s a good reason for that: trains carry a lot more passengers per vehicle.

In terms of operating costs per boarding, rail and bus cost basically the same, $2.72 vs. $2.43, respectively. You’re right that the Gold Line is expensive, but it’s not $25/trip — it’s $5.28. That number will go down significantly as ridership increases and the advantages of high-capacity trains show clearly.

In terms of the cost per passenger mile, rail really shines, at $0.45 vs. $0.64 for buses. The Blue Line ($0.36), Green Line ($0.55), and Purple/Red Lines ($0.38) all cost less to operate per passenger mile than even the efficient Orange Line BRT (at $0.56) and especially the Local/Rapid bus services (at $0.63). The Gold Line ($0.73), again, does poorly, but it’s the newest service here and it’s far less expensive per passenger mile than municipal/contract bus services ($0.91).

These statistics are incredibly relevant: they show that increasing riders on buses (such as with the Orange Line) does decrease operations costs, but not to the effect possible with seriously in-demand rail (such as with the Blue or Red/Purple heavy rail lines). If Los Angeles is intent on developing an efficient, serviceable and eventually cheaper per passenger mile system, rail is better in the heaviest-used corridors. Fortunately for L.A., most of those selected for investment in the 30/10 meet that criteria.

My bad if I was not clear enough in my initial post, I was comparing the operating subsidy for the Gold Line with the operating subsidy for the major bus lines.

MTA Fiscal Year 2007
Capital Subsidy, Operating Subsidy, and Operating Revenue per Passenger

Blue Line: $6.98
Gold Line: $23.50
Green Line: $12.16
Red Line: $15.67

Orange Line (Fixed Guideway Bus): $13.11

Bus Average: $1.93
Wilshire Rapid: $1.13


Am I misinterpreting these numbers? I understand that overtime rail operations can eventually become cheaper than bus operations, but does that benefit outweigh the capital cost of rail. Does it make economic sense for a city the size of Los Angeles that has low levels of density and a high transit dependent population to spend tens of billions of dollars on a rail system that, even as proposed, will still not meet the transit demands of its citizens?

Dan, the Gold Line is a boondoggle. The Blue Line, which is the only light rail in Los Angeles that was constructed along a decent corridor, vastly outperforms any bus line in operating cost per passenger and does better than the Orange Line even in capital cost per passenger.

One clarification. The Foothill segment of the Gold Line beyond Pasadena is a boondoggle for political reasons. The East LA segment of the Gold Line is not.

The latter is already drawing a decent cost per passenger mile that will only improve. By 2018, the Downtown Regional Connector will enabling a new alignment from East LA to Santa Monica. Per the 30/10 Plan, taking that segment of the Gold Line further extension east to South El Monte or Whittier will really juice the long range cost per passenger mile numbers.

Dan Berez is incorrect in stating we have “low levels of density”.

The Wilshire Corridor had sufficient density for rail 30 years ago, now, 30 years from now and 100 years from now.

Not everywhere will have sufficient density, but rail is not being supported everywhere.

Mypoic BRT supporters ignore the places where rail IS beneficial and warrented for their anti-rail zealotry.

Can you provide data for this talking point please? I am interested.
Also can you provide data about your claims about the I-405 corridor?

You can look up densities by census tract on the Census Factfinder. I don’t remember how to match census tracts to neighborhoods, but Googling census tract map should get you what you need. It turns out that Koreatown is the second densest neighborhood in the US outside New York, after the stretch of SF around Geary immediately west of Union Square. Westwood is also quite dense.

You seem to be including capital costs in your reports of “operating subsidy”. In which case, it shouldn’t be labelled as an operating subsidy, the definition of which excludes capital costs.

The Wilshire Subway is worth more than 30 bus lines in LA.

Have you *seen* how busy that corridor is? It has every-five-minute 24 hour local service, every-five-minute 24-hour Rapid service, and every-ten-minute Express service during peak hours. And they are all *PACKED*.

The subway would relieve this mega-congestion. The Express service could be completely eliminated, and probably so could either the Rapid or Local service. (I suggest the Local.)

The immense operating savings — and spare buses! — could save a whole huge bunch of other bus lines. Even if they *didn’t*, the benefits to the people along this super-busy corridor would outweigh the losses to other people on other buses. It’s that important a corridor. It needs exclusive bus lanes, but even with exclusive bus lanes that’s just not enough on this corridor: exclusive bus lanes would comfortably support *one* service every five minutes, not the three services currently running.

On the other hand, the Foothill Gold Line is really not a very efficient use of money.

I disagree with the suggestion of eliminating local service. I think planners and transit advocates have to be very careful using efficiency and operation savings arguments–local services provide critical service to elderly, differently-abled communities that can’t walk a mile or two to get to the nearest major transit line. Transit is a public service/good and there should always be consideration to balance efficiency measures and the needs of different communities that depend on the system.

It’s the Rapid that would no longer be needed. That’s the one that makes the stops identical to the subway.

The buses and the service hours would need to be redeployed to intersecting north-south lines. As most subway riders would be traveling east-west, it would draw away ridership from east-west lines but add them to north-south lines.

Bravo Mayor V. We need to continue to build fixed rail in the County of Los Angeles and in Southern CA. Mixed use Development follows fixed rail investment. Look at Hollywood, Mid-Wilshire and Downtown. They are all thriving because of the subway investment. The bus will help feed people to the fixed rail as it should. The Orange line should have been a light rail. The ride is not comfortable and it will not get the car owners out of their car. LA will be better off in the long run if we build the system.


You are misrepresenting a few things to say the least. The MTA is having to make some transit cuts due to the state taking away any transit assistance in the form of remitting state gas taxes. It is not for operating the Gold Line as you state. In fact, rail operations tend to be cheaper than bus operations on a per passenger mile basis.

Los Angeles already has a heavy bus to rail system compared to other cities. It has built out the rapid bus system and the Orange Line. However, the Orange Line is near capacity and the rapid bus line on Wilshire is as well. Furthermore, the busses get stopped in horrible traffic and can never attract the ridership that rail lines can or even accomodate it if they did.

The MTA’s budget has increased by over $1 billion dollars annually over the past two years, even with the state budget cuts due to Measure R and a variety of other factors. Even with additional state cuts and less tax revenue, that increase in budget will not be eliminated.

Headways on the Orange Line could be increased and largest buses could be purchased if the MTA would allocate more funding to the line.

Buses would not get stuck in horrible traffic if Bus Only lanes were constructed. Bus Only lanes would also allow for increased headways, longer buses, and increased ridership.

I am not necessarily arguing that Los Angeles should never build any rail. In my opinion however, it makes more economic sense to construct a full scale bus only lane system before constructing a rail system. This system would make the rail system significantly more effective and help identify which corridors do not need rail (the I-405 corridor comes to mind).

The I-405 corridor NEEDS rail.

A rail line connecting LAX to the San Fernando Valley would be enormously popular and widely used once the Purple Line is extended to Westwood.

Dan Berez,

Since adding more freeway lanes will not solve our transportation woes, effectively mode-shifting drivers is becoming more critical as Peak Oil and Global Warming conditions escalate. Although BRT and Rapid Bus-only lanes have a large role to play in meeting overall transit demand, you underestimate the importance of HRT, LRT, upgraded CRT and Streetcars to mode-shift Angeleno drivers to transit.

Many tax-paying Angeleno drivers perceive HRT, LRT, CRT and Streetcars as cleaner, faster and safer than any transit bus. For those perception reasons, they will not ride buses. A hint of that perception I’ve personally witnessed is that people from all creeds ride the Blue Line from Downtown LA to Long Beach who would never catch the bus on that route. Ditto for the Green Line from end to end. I don’t know what percentage of Green and Blue Line patrons own cars, so won’t comment on that aspect.

Another set of Angeleno drivers won’t ride Metrorail or Metrolink because it does not yet go to their attractions of interest. My wife, a typical Angeleno driver, is a great example that can be mode-switched from cars. But she has plainly told me, that she will NOT ride any sort of transit bus.

I also find it interesting that she has rode on SF Bay Area, Washington, NYC, Philadelphia and Atlanta metro systems. Her complaints were that 42nd Street Station in NYC was overcrowded, Broad Street line in Philly from Center City to the sports arenas was “too old” looking. Surprisingly, she liked the modern metro systems and the fact the NYC Subways routes connected us to everything we wanted to see in Manhattan and the NEC Amtrak Station.

So when I mention to her that MTA is studying a “new” LRT line from Torrance to LAX to Mid-Wilshire to Hollywood & Highland that would be faster and more dependable, it stirs her curiosity.

Next I mention that by 2018-19, the same Metrorail LRT line would intersect frequent Metrorail lines to Universal Studios, North Hollywood, Pasadena, LA LIVE, Disney Concert Hall, USC, Wiltern Theater, Culver City/Sony Pictures, LA County Museum of Art, Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive, Century City, Westwood/UCLA, Westside media companies, and Santa Monica, she enthusiastically asks for more info.

Then I mention that Metrorail LRT line would intersect frequent Metrorail lines going to Union Station for California HSR trips to SF Bay Area, San Diego and Las Vegas. Before I can add $7-8/gallon gas and higher airfares by 2018, she’s sold on future Metrorail. That’s why I’m convinced hundreds of thousands of Angeleno drivers will mode-switch to high-quality rail transit, not buses.

Lastly, despite the typical Angeleno driver, it does make sense to run a couple north-south BRT lines within San Fernando Valley, but no more East-West Orange Line BRT extension.

Bus lanes (especially ones not grade-separated from streets) can also be converted to auto usage by unscrupulous future administrations hostile to transit. Rail cannot. That’s what’s generally meant when politicians say that buses are more ‘flexible’ than rail; they mean “politically flexible”, as in, they can easily be gotten rid of on a whim.

BRT (indicating something like Bogotá’s system, a “trackless trolley”, complete with functionally separate ROW and stations and ROW that does not interact with street traffic) in and of itself (as opposed to being used for feeder lines) is generally inadequate for large cities like L.A.; even Bogotá is realizing it can’t get by with its much-vaunted system, and is working on implementing heavy rail.

L.A. should focus on rail transit as it has a greater capacity to carry passengers and is less prone to being disestablished by special interests due to its special nature.

Surely Villaraigosa must have some amount of reasonable confidence that he can get this proposal through Congress, given the travel and political coordination that he seems to be doing. Assuming that Bunning’s shenanigans are sidelined over the next month or so, is there really a legal barrier that prevents USDOT from loaning the money to LA?

Culver City is a good example as to why lightrail/subway should be put in place. Culver City already has an extensive and efficient bus system (Culver City Bus) which generally operates in Culver City and the surrounding areas. However for someone going to other parts of LA outside of Culver City, his/her best option is still to drive. On public transit they must transfer to various buses, and the buses still must share the road with the cars. People are excited about the Expo line because it’s providng easy access to downtown and other parts of LA in a reasonable amount of time.

This proposal which was seen as a serious longshot seems to be getting some traction. I heard Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky speak last week and he said he thought it had a 1 in 4 chance now of happening. Measure R was a long shot all the time and it got through. It may be the same with this, but there is a ways to go.

Susana De Vos espouses discredited BRU talking points.

No one with any knowledge of transportation planning takes the so-called Bus Riders “Union” seriously anymore, nor should they.

A high quality bus system is essential, but is not enough by itself to serve Los Angeles transit needs and sustain our economic and environmental viability.

Congratulations and appreciation to Mayor Villaraigosa.

Shame on the discredited Bus Riders Union for choosing to play an unconstructive and uninformed role in Los Angeles transit planning.

Bus-only transit zealots also ignore the reality that rail attracts density and development.

There is not a single rail stop or rail line in London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco or anywhere else that was in existence 30 years ago where there is less density and the corridor should be converted to bus service.

This is not a choice of bus versus rail. This is a choice between a bus system supplemented by rail and a bus system with no rail.

When the discredted BRU campaigned against Measure R, the only proposal on offer than would have directed the billions of dollars for bus service that they claim on their t-shirts that they want, they showed they are not serious players in Los Angeles transit planning.

Metro should stop giving this discredited organization a block of time to speak during its meetings. They should get the same one-minute that every other organization gets.

The great silent majority of transit riders will no longer allow the BRU to claim to speak for us.

Sorry to be a downer, but along the south branches of the Green line and portions of the Red line in Chicago density is WAY down from thirty years ago.

That’s because those neighborhoods aren’t invested in by the city. More development and investment happens on the Northside, the Near West Side (to about Western) and the South Loop (around the museum campus)not in the neighborhoods served by the orange, green, and dan ryan branch of the Red Line. Those places have seen hardship since the 60’s and have suffered from poor transit service, education, and crime, all factors that push people who can to move out and deter new residents from coming in. The dilemma is though, that if they shut down the lines due to low ridership, then it just makes matters even worst.

“Sorry to be a downer, but along the south branches of the Green line and portions of the Red line in Chicago density is WAY down from thirty years ago.”

“But that doesn’t mean that rail isn’t still warranted for those lines.”

“For the Green line, it kind of does.”

The Green and Red lines are really very close for a large portion of their distance. Metra Electric parallels to the east over the densest portion.

There isn’t really density enough for TWO or THREE rail lines — that’s the problem. Of course it doesn’t help that both the Green Line and Metra Electric are in pretty poor condition, or that the Green Line was cut back from its natural terminus due to insane politics back in the 80s (my grandmother tried to fight that), and so forth. But there’s certainly enough demand for at least one rapid transit line from downtown to the U of Chicago.

There was talk, if I remember rightly, about getting rid of the Englewood/Woodlawn el when reconstruction started – the Woodlawn Branch (on E. 63rd Street) was cut back about a mile and the city had to return federal funding within the past 15 or so years. There are huge swaths of vacant land around the Green line in many places.

Had the original expansion plans gone ahead, density would have likely been much higher further south, likely increasing ridership. We just did get rid of our semi-express bus services though. I prefer rail to bus most of the time, generally speaking.

Yes, trains are never going to supplant buses completely.

Even in the 1920’s, the heyday of the streetcars in Los Angeles, each private company (Pacific Electric Railway and Los Angeles Railway) ran their own network of “coach lines” (buses) to supplement service in way-out places where the trolley cars did not go and most likely would never go. There were also other private bus lines like Asbury. This was the time before publicly owned transit.

The point is: where does it make sense to put subways, where does it make sense to put light rail. Where do buses make sense? Where does BRT make sense?

There have been some serious mistakes so far in building our mass transit (Green Line stopping short of LAX, Red Line not going to Burbank Airport, Orange Line not light rail), but now we are trying to fix.

Yes, buses should be part of the mix. They should not be neglected. But Los Angeles is well more than big enough now to support several subway lines and several light rail lines. This can’t be bus vs. rail and shouldn’t be. Any rational transit planner working in a massive population center like LA County would tell you they need every tool they can get in their toolbox. Let’s not dump rail because the up-front costs are large. It’s needed in certain areas that are densely populated.

“Any rational transit planner working in a massive population center like LA County would tell you they need every tool they can get in their toolbox.”


Exactly. We need EVERY tool available. High Speed Rail is coming. We have Heavy Rail (Purple Line / Red Line). We have Light Rail (Blue Line / Gold Line / Green Line). We have Bus Rapid Transit (Orange Line / Silver Line).
We have Metrolink Commuter Rail to suburban areas which can also be expanded

On the other end we have “Rapid Buses”, Commuter Buses and Local Buses.

We need ALL of it. No one mode will serve all of Los Angeles’ interests. And buses by themselves will not attract economic development nor get people out of their cars, no matter how high-quality those bus-only lanes are. Still, we need them.

One mode that will be returning to Los Angeles in a few years is the modern streetcar. This Broadway Streetcar will prove to be very popular and it is an exciting project that will spur renewed interest in streetcars all over the county.

There are transit corridors that are unlikely to see grade separated rail in our lifetimes, but for which transit-only lanes shared by streetcars and buses can be up and running in years, not decades.

After the Broadway Streetcar is up and running, I’d like to see investigation into a Ventura Blvd. transit-only (bus/corridor) lane with streetcars and buses, and a Sunset/SantaMonica Blvd. tranist-only lane (bus/streetcar) corridor.

People who want continued and increasing investment is bus services should be supporting all modes of transit for people who are riding commuter, heavy, light and streetcar rail lines will want high-quality bus service for connect them via the first/last mile to their points of origin/destination.

Let me point out as well that even systems with MASSIVE subway systems still have large numbers of bus routes.

New York has untold numbers of bus routes. So does London, and so does Tokyo. And they always will.

In Los Angeles we cannot limit ourselves to buses alone. Yes, building subways is costly and painful. (Light rail slightly less so if existing rights of way are used.) Painful but necessary.

I think you can tell the inefficacy of this Bus Riders Union simply by looking at their name. Why do they care if it’s a bus? Why don’t they want the best, most efficient, most cost effective, fastest, etc transit experience regardless of mode? With a name like Bus Riders Union, it’s an affinity group and not a public policy advocacy group. It’s like Corvettes Anonymous or Geo Metro Fan Club or something, where people have an *personal* affinity for a certain choice. To think a group named “Bus Riders Union” could effectively advocate for the transit-riding population is a joke.

A common suspicion about the BRU is that their REAL constituency is bus drivers; who view rail as a threat to jobs. One of the key selling points of rail is that it permits more passengers to be handled by a single operator–which can be used to expand service, or to reduce costs and lay off drivers. BRU has consistently supported drivers during labor disputes–an organization which was focused upon the needs of riders probably would be neutral in such matters, or agitate against any potential service disruptions. (An organization that was REALLY focused on riders’ needs would be demanding wage and benefit cuts in order to preserve or even expand service, or lower fares).

Of course, I could be wrong–they could simply be garden-variety demagogues, attempting to stoke resentment in LA’s poor and minority communities–but much like many of the “tea party” and similar organizations who perform a similar function among rural Christian whites, BRU’s policy positions aren’t very serious. (And unlike the Tea Parties, not very successful either, other than the infamous consent decree…)


You bring up a lot of interesting questions with this post especially in a time of great change here in the city of Los Angeles. Perhaps the mayor’s plan here is exactly what this city needs, or maybe it is the opposite. Los Angeles has a very unique history when it comes to public transportation and you raising the question of the 30/10 plans feasibility is spot on. With the current fiscal situation Los Angeles is in it needs all the help it can get and perhaps this kind of plan can set an example for other cities and states to gain funding for transit projects. I found the idea of a national infrastructure bank that you mentioned to be a smart way for the federal government to allocate loans to municipalities for projects like this, especially at a lower interest.
However, is more transit and transit funding the answer to the congestion in Los Angeles and the fiscal crisis as well. I have been doing some research into the current fiscal crisis we are in and with all of the cost cutting, raising taxes for public transit may not necessarily the answer with Measure R. Given the history Los Angeles has with its love of the car and lower density compared to other large metropolises in this country, this city may need to experience a paradigm shift in its transit preferences. Mayor Villaraigosa may love public transit, but does Los Angeles as a whole? A large percentage of funding goes towards public transportation which benefits a much smaller percentage of the city population. I don’t disagree with funding it, but perhaps there is a more efficient means to do so, or a way to overhaul the system to make it a more viable option for users and that way funding it is justified.

dont forget it was the voters who voted for and approved measure R. apparently they have enough of a love of transit to tax themselves for improvements.

Nice to see a heavy rail line down Vermont Avenue proposed on this map. A proper north-south transit line (not the ineffective Harbor Transitway) west of the Blue Line would have high ridership and encourage growth in South Los Angeles. Vermont, especially from Exposition Blvd north has densities that are similar to the norther portion of the street already served by the Red Line. Plus, living at USC, it would give a much quicker connection to Mid Wilshire and Westwood than the Expo Line.

Now Yonah, the I-405 transit corridor through the Sepulveda Pass is yet undecided in terms of mode. Based on the new carpool lanes that Metro and Caltrans are building right now on 405 in the area and the fact that (unfortunately) the Orange Line is likely to remain a busway indefinitely, I’d say Metro is more likely to choose a bus alternative for the route a la El Monte Busway. Buses could through route from the Orange Line onto this busway. Unfortunately, as seen by the low ridership on the 761 Metro Rapid line which already runs on the freeway, not many people from the valley want to take a bus to the west side. While I agree with you that the project should be light (or perhaps heavy)-rail, that possibility sounds sadly unlikely.

Los Angeles isn;t the autocentric car lover utopia that it was thirty years ago. Mass transit usage in the city has surged. The people of LA County OVERWHELMINGLY approved Measure R in 2008.

Los Angeles, contrary to popular opinion, is a very dense city with numerous high density corridors that are PERFECT for heavy/light rail. People need to quit lumping LA in with Orange County and Imperial Valley.

Several points have yet to be stated here.

1) The additional rail lines will create additional ridership on existing lines. The Regional Connector in particular will make the existing sections of the Gold Line more efficient in terms of ridership.

2) One benefit of the rail lines not stated is that it attracts the middle class – and the middle class is a constituency that politicians tend to listen to. Rail lines make it more likely that transit of all modes will get funded in Los Angeles.

3) Rail ridership could be increased if bus routes were routed in a better way to serve them and not compete with them. At Norwalk Station there are many bus routes that will take you back west, where you came from on the Green Line, but very few will take you further.

4) RTD (LA Metro’s predecessor) used to run an extensive network of express bus routes on area freeways. Almost all of them were cancelled, mostly for low ridership. Every single express bus route that follows what is now a rail corridor carried FAR LESS passengers than the rail line that follows. Express buses on freeways has been tried before – and it failed. Why would it be different now, especially because freeways are more congested than they have ever been and many still lack carpool lanes; even the freeways with carpool lanes often have them congested for long periods of time.

5) From the 761 comment: buses will never be able to provide a good connection through the Sepulveda Pass because diesel buses have enormous trouble climbing hills. Any route that goes over a hill will suffer from the 10 MPH up 405 affliction that the 761 experiences daily.

6) The Orange Line case shows that buses cannot operate extremely frequently on at at grade roadway. Light synchronization will not work if buses are schedules more than about every 5 minutes: the result, “express” buses stuck at traffic lights. We already have tons of buses to the sea – adding any more will merely slow the existing service even more.

I’ve often wondered if the way DC built its Metro could be a precedent for the rest of the country. That is, transit needs to be built as chunks that make up a significant part of a system, not as a piecemeal investment, and the federal gov’t alone can make that investment. Each year, a set number of cities will be eligible for a federal loan not unlike what Villaraigosa is proposing for LA.

I’m sorry, but the 30/10 plan stinks. Light rail to the outer suburbs never works – it’s too slow, so it only works for peak hour work trips to the CBD. The Gold Line has so many slow zones north of LAUS that its ridership is far below projections; the Foothills extension at this stage is just pork for the San Gabriel Valley. And Santa Ana is so far from LA that it can only be served by modern commuter rail.

Meanwhile, priority extensions such as connections to California HSR stations are nowhere in this plan. Norwalk only gets the Green Line extension in the long-range plan, and Burbank doesn’t even get connecting rail transit then. Villaraigosa must think that buses suck as a way of getting to work, but are great as a way of getting to the HSR station.

I think criticisms of the route and mode choices misses the point about what makes the 30/10 plan innovative and newsworthy – the financing plan.

We can debate all day about what it is that they’re building, but it most certainly will be a large investment with high cost – I’d imagine any counter-proposal from someone like yourself would be just as pricey – and financing that program in an expedited fashion is the real news here.

Well, it goes to show how political transit planning decisions are. There is not the will to fund desperately needed projects like the Purple Line extension unless the suburbs get their pork too.

That’s just the hard reality.

If this works though, that means the other needed projects you spoke of will get built sooner. Everything will move up in timeline.

1) Isn’t the Wilshire subway an order of magnitude more expensive than e.g. Goldline Foothills? Sending one or two dollars out of every 10 to the outer suburbs seems worthwhile if it keeps the the politicians quiet and the money flowing. It’s certainly nothing compared to what’s lost to corruption and politically-protected incompetence and inefficiency in capital projects in New York.

2) Is the Santa Ana branch actually going to be light rail? The map shows it running along the Metrolink corridor out of Union Station, which makes (possibly electrified) commuter rail operation seem much more feasible and likely. Anyway, be glad they’ve at least stopped talking about maglev as a mode for this corridor.

Dan, Alex: the suburbs can get their pork at much lower cost if Metrolink decides to modernize, on the model of Caltrain. Commuter EMUs to Irvine, Sylmar/Chatsworth, and San Bernardino would provide a higher quality of service than all-stops light rail at lower cost.

The Santa Ana extension isn’t on the Metrolink corridor – it’s an old Pacific Electric line. The Metrolink corridor connects with Anaheim and Norwalk, feeding HSR; the PE line does not. One corridor gives Santa Ana a 10-minute trip to HSR, another gives it a 60-minute trip. Guess which LA County is doing.

And yes, I’m glad LA is financing projects, and I’m glad it’s capable of building a subway with only 20-50% or so more money than the rest of the world, instead of 600% as in New York. But the routing is just bad. A cheap light rail line to nowhere isn’t a sound investment.

The Pacific Electric Santa Ana ROW is occupied by I-105 between the LA River and the modern-day Blue Line, so any such project could not follow the old ROW all the way downtown. The Metro Long-Range Transportation Plan seems to show the Santa Ana Corridor project turning north near the I-105/I-710 junction, following a UP line which merges into the current Metrolink Riverside Line at Downey Road, and taking taking that line to Union Station. Yonah’s schematic seems to show the project merging into the Harbor Subdivision ROW somehow, but this would still involve sharing/paralleling busy freight tracks north of Redondo Junction. Given UP’s propensity to share sections of their ROW, it’s not clear anything other than commuter rail operation would be feasible.

The Metro website does not seem to have any studies/information about the Santa Ana project, much less the detailed scoping/AA/even draft EIS documents available for most of the other projects shown. Is Metro in charge of this project, and if so, are they serious about it?

I realize that the Foothill Gold Line looks like pork from where you’re standing, and certainly the construction jobs from it are part of why all of the San Gabriel Valley cities are standing so firmly behind it at the moment. I do urge you to consider a few things, though. Foothill Gold is relatively cheap, enjoys support from the vast majority of local politicians and residents who know about it, and has a complete EIR just waiting to be built. Furthermore, if you know the area, then you know that the commuting patterns very much resemble a traditional metropolis in miniature: lots of jobs and culture in Pasadena, the central city, to which the smaller suburbs commute. That particular pattern puts a fair amount of stress on the 210 freeway, though of course it’s nowhere near as bad as anywhere on the Westside. That’s is a reason why Sierra Madre Villa station has such a high boarding count: people from further east drive there, park, and take the Gold Line to avoid the traffic bottleneck through downtown Pasadena. If the project is inexpensive, ready to go, and well-suited to provide an alternate route for preexisting commute patterns, why not go ahead with it? Even better, most of the cities along the route have been putting together plans for transit-oriented development, and that kind of beneficial feedback will only get better as time goes on.

Ypres, I’m not sure what you mean by “high boarding count.” Higher than the other stations, sure, but by absolute standards it’s not high.

It doesn’t just matter what the cost per km is. Cost is not the problem of American light rail, which actually costs less per km than in, say, France. The problem is always the ridership. At the distances of the Gold Line, 28 mph just isn’t enough. That’s why it’s so low-ridership, and so expensive to operate (it has nearly the same operating costs as the Blue Line, and one quarter the ridership). It just doesn’t make sense to extend it.

Public support doesn’t make a project good. BART to San Jose is really popular, too.

Concerning the boarding count, the whole line is obviously on the low side when compared to the Blue Line, etc. What I meant to point out is that a significant portion of boardings occur at Sierra Madre Villa on the eastern end, indicating that people are driving to that station, parking, and getting on the train for the rest of their trip to Pasadena or further in to downtown L.A. When you consider the number of people who make that commute in to Pasadena from the eastern suburbs every day, you see that a way for them to avoid taking the 210 freeway would be both useful and popular.

As for the speed issue, the overall speed of the Gold Line as a whole may not change that much, but the speed of the Foothill portion will be quite high. This is not a street-running, ROW-constricted area like the Eastside Extension; it’s a freight right-of-way that’s already largely grade separated and has none of the street-running sections like Marmion Way that slow the average speed of the original segment. For the considerable number of people who live in the area between Sierra Madre Villa and where Metrolink goes to out east (and it is a fair amount of people, especially in Arcadia and Asuza), this will be a fast way to get to downtown Pasadena. I’m pretty skeptical about the second phase of the extension, which is where you start to compete with Metrolink, but the first phase seems completely logical.

The nicest thing about the Foothill Gold Line plan is simply that it links up with Metrolink on the east end. With proper scheduling (which is admittedly unlikely) people may use it to ride *east* to Metrolink, or take Metrolink and change to the Gold Line for Pasadena.

Viewed as a light rail system centered on Pasadena, it may make more sense than viewed as part of an LA rail system.

Alon, the alleged slowness of the Gold Line are greatly exaggerated. The first phase of the Gold Line (Union Station to Sierra Madre Villa in eastern Pasadena) takes 29 minutes to complete a route of about 14 miles. That clocks in at about a 28 mph average.

There are two slow zones on that part of the route. One is f’n Marmion Way. This is what people refer to when wanking on the Gold Line. There’s a patch of route between the Southwest Museum and Highland Park stations where the Gold Line inherited an old right of way in the middle of Marmion. However, the right of way for the train service became so wide on this residential street that the roadway became less than a lane wide. In order for cars to turn out of their driveways, they need to briefly encroach the tracks.

A Google Maps car somehow drove along Marmion Way. You could see for yourself the <1 lane wide street here:

Because of this, trains slow to 20 mph along Marmion. It takes all of 3 minutes to go between Highland Park and Southwest Museum.

The other slow section is the serpentine elevated track between Chinatown and Union Station. There are no signals here; the trains go slow so that they don't screech the tracks and disturb the neighbors.

There's another theory why the Gold Line's ridership never materialized, and it doesn't have anything to do with the slow zones.

The biggest problem that the Gold Line goes into the very northeastern periphery of downtown L.A., Union Station. Downtown L.A. is a destination, Union Station is a multimodal transit hub. Really though, the heart of downtown is an area between 1st Street, Broadway, Olympic and the 110 Freeway. And Union Station is the worst place to have to make a transfer connection.

It's very labrynthine … and that's just if you have to take a train. Your problems are worse if you have to connect to a bus, as there are four different stop locations to catch the bus you need.
1. The Patsaouras Transit Plaza. This is at the east portal of Union Station, and it's served by routes that begin or end at Union Station.
2. Cesar Chavez Avenue at the jail or Terminal Annex. This is for some Rapid buses and the local routes that run alongside Union Station but don't begin or end there.

If you are wondering why don't these buses just enter the Plaza, I'll answer that question for you. Metro envisioned the Plaza as a Transbay Terminal of Los Angeles when it was being planned in the 1980s. Every bus serving downtown was supposed to go inside here. Then, reality intervened. Passengers who were riding past Union Station (on lines 68 through 79) didn't want their routes terminating and being forced to transfer. Then, Metro determined that to run a through-line bus into the Plaza adds 5 minutes to each trip. This would have meant that 3 additional buses would have to be added to busier routes like Line 70 just to maintain existing frequencies. That's how much such little added time can make.

3. Alameda Street. This is where riders catch DASH or freeway express buses run by Santa Monica and Torrance.

4. Bus pad near the 101 Freeway. This is where El Monte Busway bus services stop.

Alon, regarding the Norwalk and Burbank high-speed rail connections:

1. It’s the city of Norwalk that has insisted on a subway for the Green Line between the 605 Freeway and the Metrolink station. The city’s position hasn’t changed much, and it’s a desire to prevent an extension from ever happening by making it too expensive to be worthwhile. (There are two very worthwhile stops along the way. One is the Paddison Square Shopping Center. The other is the Norwalk Civic Center, which is also the home of several L.A. County offices and a courthouse.)

2. The bus that might serve the Burbank Metrolink Station would be the Orange Line. The cities of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena are asking for a study to extend the Orange Line from North Hollywood to a Gold Line station. This would enable a radial line that allows riders to bypass downtown L.A.

The Chandler Boulevard right-of-way still exists, and offers a direct route to downtown Burbank. Unfortunately, it’s been turned into a bike path and the route runs through a residential area with very low ridership potential. Burbank Airport is still 1.5 miles north on Hollywood Way, and it wouldn’t be served.

An option that would allow for higher ridership has the drawback of being on a freeway. Having the buses hop on the 134 Freeway would put stops in the job-rich Media District (where NBC and Warner Bros. are) and still serve the Burbank Transit Center. It would then get back on the freeway to serve Glendale’s central business district, which is near the freeway in the first place, then go on to Pasadena.

An Orange Line extension is at least BRT as it was meant to be. It’s the closest thing to a Curitiba-style busway in the U.S. Unfortunately, its daily ridership, at just 20,000 today, means the Orange Line is running beyond its capacity. Imagine how ugly things get when it’s expected to carry 40,000-60,000 on buses alone.

it seems to me that the crenshaw line and I-405 corridor should be a single route that utilizes part of the expo II route, running from LAX to the SF Valley.

Poncho, you are correct in that the 405 route should really be a Valley to LAX line. A continuous line would be much better than a Crenshaw line and a 405 line that don’t connect.

I agree with Alon to a certain degree. There are some key items missing like a Norwalk HSR connection with the Green Line, a Vermont Avenue subway, a Pink Line Hollywood to Westside subway, a Crenshaw connection to the Purple Line and so forth.

Nevertheless, the key projects here are still key. A 405 Line will be heavily used, the Downtown Connector is necessary, the Purple Line extension which is much larger in scope than any of the other projects will be one of North America’s great rail lines. Finally, a rail connection to LAX has to happen sooner rather than later considering it is one of the world’s 10 busiest airports.

Overall, I wouldn’t have designed all the projects this way, but getting a 2/3 vote in LA County was hard enough so there are a few questionable lines, but overall the good outweigh the not so good here.

If the 30/10 plan is to be funded by borrowing against future revenue, does this mean those lines not in the plan will have to wait through 20+ years of paying off debt with no construction at all? There are plenty of worthy (and some unworthy) proposals shown in gray on the map above. LA should by all means build as much transit as it can in the next 10 years, but what about the 10 years after that?

This is a good question, however, the benefits to Los Angeles in economic development and environmental sustainability make doing Measure R’s projects in 10 years worth it.

Perhaps there will be other federal or state funds available for other projects, or other public/private projects.

I highly doubt we’d be in a 20-year freeze.

“At the distances of the Gold Line, 28 mph just isn’t enough. That’s why it’s so low-ridership, and so expensive to operate (it has nearly the same operating costs as the Blue Line, and one quarter the ridership). It just doesn’t make sense to extend it.”

Speed is not the factor that is limiting ridership, its the fact that one must board outside of Downtown at Union Station instead of in the heart of Downtown LA, like the Blue Line.


28 mph running is very good for the section, on the extension to Azusa the average speed will be 41 mph between stations which are spaced at every 2 miles apart.

In other words, the Foothills will get commuter rail for the cost of urban rail. That’s just great.

If the problem is the lack of service to downtown, then you’d expect the Eastside extension to increase ridership on the Pasadena segment, too.

It has increased that ridership slightly by the nature of the station at Little Tokyo -which is one the busier ones on the new Eastside Extension. However both of these lines will benefit greatly by the Regional Connector project which by conservative estimates will increase ridership on the current Pasadena Gold Line and newly opened Eastside extension by 20%. This doesn’t factor in the effects of the Expo Line to Santa Monica or even a modest extension of the Purple Line subway to Wilshire/Fairfax.

Even a 20% increase takes the Gold Line to about 30,000 daily riders, which is still puny. And so far the line has fallen below ridership projections, so 20% may not materialize.

Alon Levy wrote: In other words, the Foothills will get commuter rail for the cost of urban rail. That’s just great.

If it’s good enough for Pittsburg/Bay Point, it’s good enough for Azusa. :>

I’m not in favor of the Foothill Gold Line extension for the reason you stated. Yet it will happen, and the board action to prioritize this extension in exchange to allow the last 2 MOSs of the subway has a modicum of sensibility. (The alternative would have been for the suburban pols to kill off any subway extension because it will consume 10% of Measure R).

The problem I have with Foothill Gold Line is that the northernmost right of way does very little to help the San Gabriel Valley. The Metrolink right of way parallels the 10 freeway and allows Valley residents to meet “in the middle” and ride the train downtown. The heaviest transit ridership is along I-10, where the Silver Streak and numerous commuter buses run.

On the other hand, the right of way isn’t exactly a barren wasteland, either. The Duarte station will be at the City of Hope, a medical center and cancer research facility. Azusa will have a stop for Citrus College and Azusa Pacific University. These will at least ensure that ridership doesn’t fall off outside of rush hours.

I would have served this area with a commuter rail line branching off the San Bernadino Metrolink Line at El Monte.

But the political establishment was determined to get light rail, rather than commuter rail for this area.

Dan, with the commuter rail that the MTA would offer, I don’t blame the politicos for wanting light rail. That’s why I keep talking about modern commuter rail, i.e. running electrified, lightweight, high-acceleration trains all day at high frequency. Caltrain is planning to order such trains and obtain all the regulatory waivers necessary in order to upgrade its steam-era service; Metrolink should do the same.


Dan, with the commuter rail that the MTA would offer, I don’t blame the politicos for wanting light rail.

It’s probably worth to mention that this is light rail while this is conventional heavy commuter/regional rail. Yep, the vehicles involved are completely the same.

The European vehicle you link to is precisely what I mean by modern commuter rail. You can run it light rail-style, i.e. on brand new tracks, or you can electrify legacy tracks and run it. Caltrain’s doing the latter, which is much, much more cost-effective than what LACMTA is doing.

We all know that political horse-trading rhymes with transportation funding and Gold Line to Citrus, though far from stellar, will perform as well as many other LRT lines nationwide. So I welcome the Gold Line Foothill extension to Azuza-Citrus.

The future line terminus however, should be where Gold Line extension intersects Pomona Metrolink Station. Even if this were 2030, it makes Zero sense to extend Foothills LRT past that Pomona MetroLink-Metroail Station.

I think the Crenshaw line is fine since it provides the most direct route to downtown from LAX. But the other light rail line that leaves LAX should follow Sepulveda Bl, connect with the Expo line as shown and go thru a tunnel under Sepulveda Pass into the valley. This tunnel should be designed to accommodate both LRT and HRT so that it will be easy in the future to convert it to an HRT when the demand merits it and the funding exists.


The Eastside extension is still on the outskirts of Downtown rather than at its core like the Blue Line is.

Is there a reason why LA doesn’t go issues bonds backed by this tax? Exactly why are they so special to get even more federal subsidies on top of what they already get?

Alon, 30,000 is about what the Gold Line is approaching now that the Eastside leg has opened.

The thing about the Gold Line is that the Pasadena and East L.A. legs are tied together by circumstance, not to provide a natural travel corridor along a single line. Few passengers travel in a C shape.

The regional connector would likely break apart the two segments of the existing Gold Line and allow for crosstown services. The most logical line would be a combination of the Eastside Gold Line with the Expo Line.

Bus passengers right now can do a similar trip on Lines 30/31, which runs from East Los Angeles to Crackton. If they board at Whittier Boulevard, they can get as far as Westwood on a single 720 bus.

At least the Expo extension would provide a significant speed advantage to head west.

The Pasadena leg would be more problematic. Tying it into the Blue Line is less logical. The Washington Boulevard route will remain as is, and Long Beach to Pasadena still has a roundabout C-shaped route with the connector.

Also, if Pasadena and Long Beach are hooked together, we have the problem of an at-grade light rail line cresting the 100,000-boarding mark.

You’re right in your previous comment about the BART analogy. BART seems to be the model here, and that isn’t good. The only difference is that LA provides light rail service quality. At least LA manages to build things at reasonable cost per km, unlike the Bay Area. Its problem is that the lines don’t get much ridership.

The Blue/Pasadena line combination might have problems, but excessive ridership isn’t one of them.

First, if you add together the ridership of the two lines, it doesn’t actually make the Blue Line any busier. Symmetric lines always have more capacity because they’re essentially two lines joined together downtown.

Second, 100,000 boardings per day is well within the capability of light rail. Calgary gets 250,000 on two lines with an interlined downtown at-grade segment, and is not yet at capacity.

Third, excluding the Eastside leg the Gold Line has so little ridership that there would be a severe ridership mismatch; a 20% increase would give it a little more than one third the ridership of the Blue Line.

And fourth, I’d say that creating a 50 mile light rail line would be a bigger problem than ridership.

That doesn’t mean the Regional Connector is a bad idea. It’s a good idea, which could be made great with a trivial change in route. It’s all the deep suburban extensions that piss taxpayer money on pork.

What would a transfer at Civic Center achieve that the transfer at 7th Street/Metro Center doesn’t? Is it a particularly awkward interchange? And isn’t the eventual plan to through-run the Expo and Blue lines along the Gold line routes anyway?

It would give the Eastside a somewhat nicer transfer to the Red Line, involving less crawling in streetcar mode. If the Red Line were ever extended east, it would also save time on backtracking.

For ridership-matching reasons, I would expect the Blue Line would be paired with the Eastside Gold Line and the Expo Line with the Pasadena Gold Line. This would also avoid the insane length resulting from concatenating the Pasadena and Blue Lines.

“I would expect the Blue Line would be paired with the Eastside Gold Line and the Expo Line with the Pasadena Gold Line. This would also avoid the insane length resulting from concatenating the Pasadena and Blue Lines.”

Montclair to Santa Monica would be roughly the same length as Montclair to Long Beach. Either length is long, so that’s not a reason to pick one over the other.

Both Gold line segments want a realignment to beach, though I prefer Eastern LA County-Santa Monica and Azuza-Long Beach, the wisest and fairest thing is to have the MTA study which new alignment combinations generate the most passenger miles and lowest taxpayer subsidy.

How good is LA’s bond rating? If it’s better than California as a whole, it might be an idea just to bypass the federal government and PPP the whole thing. There’s one way, and one way alone for a public private partnership financing arrangement to save money, and that’s to escape the inflation factor by originating the whole loan at once rather than dealing with the usual federal approach of getting a project funded in miniscule increments over many years in an age of serious construction inflation. If there’s anywhere a PPP would be appropriate, it’s with Villaraigosa’s proposal.

L.A.’s straits are as dire as California’s. About 1,000 city workers need to be laid off by the next fiscal year, then 3,000 after that.

Also, this is a Metro project. Metro is a state agency, even though its jurisdiction is Los Angeles County.

“I’d have it go a little further north to intersect Civic Center with a transfer.”

What good would a tranfer there do? If you’re coming off the Eastside and need to get to let’s say Union Station, you can do that at Little Tokyo to another LRT line to go the one stop.

If you’re transfering to the Red/Purple Line to head West, 7th Street Metro Center would work out as a “nicer” connection since it will be one level below the existing station. And since the Regional Connector preferred alignment will be below ground the entire time through the Civic Center serving two stations in the Civic Center area (since the Civic Center complex is a large district)

The Red Line might get extended east in the future, if sanity prevails in LA.

And even if it doesn’t, I don’t get why 7th Street/Metro Center is a nicer connection.

Why would the Civic Center be a better connection? If you are heading west on the Purple, why would you bypass 7th to loop back and transfer at Civic Center? In the time wasted, you could have already been on the Purple line platform and made your transfer west. The same goes for those transferring to the Red to head north to Hollywood. And unless you were traveling on a line that runs through straight to Pasadena, you would still have to make a transfer to get to union station resulting in atleast two rail transfers to complete your trip. There is really no advantaged in routing it through Civic center.

Who said anything about bypassing 7th?

Civic Center would be an additional connection. Standard metro building practice in the first world (i.e. certainly not the US) is that whenever two lines intersect, there’s a free transfer. (Standard practice is also not to build 80-km light rail lines…)

7th Street Metro Center is a natural point that will go in the direction of people needing to transfer WEST to destinations of Hollywood and Wilshire Corridor.

If and when the subway continues East towards Whittier Blvd then the extension becomes the “transfer” as it would create the direct trip.

So again, I don’t see why the desire to have Civic Center be a redundent transfer point when there isn’t the demand for it nor if there is the demand, extending the service into the area would be a far better use to the transit system.

Jerard has a good point, particularly since the MTA voted to subway the entire LRT Regional Connector. And if the East LA-Santa Monica LRT realignment is chosen, its a slam dunk.

Thad, the two connections doesn’t mean that 7th Street Metro Center will become a redundant stop.

Assume passengers ride strategically. A passenger from either leg of the Gold Line would prefer to transfer to an outbound subway train at Civic Center because it gives a better chance for a seat or space on the train.

On the way back, the same passenger would instead get out at Metro Center and board an outbound East L.A. or Pasadena train for the same reason.

For passengers coming from Long Beach or Expo, they would continue to use 7MC (or will, in Expo’s case).

That would only be the case if the Gold Line service was eliminated and replaced by through running of the Expo/Blue lines. If the Gold service was still implemented, a strategic rider would transfer at Union Station because they would definately have room and a seat on the train as they originate there.

Once the regional connector is built, there’s very little need for the Gold Line as it runs today. It’s only circumstance, namely of tying two route pairs that would otherwise run as unconnected services, that keeps East L.A. and Pasadena together.

As it is, Union Station and Little Tokyo are significant “churn zones” between the two segments. There’s not too many passengers riding the full C.

I don’t think there is a reason to retain Gold service, I was just making a hypothetical point. It really isn’t even that big of a deal because we aren’t the planners and really won’t be benefiting from this project as non- LA residents.

“The European vehicle you link to is precisely what I mean by modern commuter rail. You can run it light rail-style, i.e. on brand new tracks, or you can electrify legacy tracks and run it. Caltrain’s doing the latter, which is much, much more cost-effective than what LACMTA is doing.”

That is the key word in that statement is “legacy” tracks. Tracks that have been operational and have the appropriate Right-of-way widths to make it work out like Caltrain, some corridors in question (ie Gold Line to Pasadena) would have required a rebuild from scratch! In the core portion of the route which would have made operating DMU’s cost more in capital AND operating costs. This was something being considered in the 1990’s there is a study of this in the Dorothy Gray Transportation Library at Metro Headquarters.

Also considering that there are communities within the portion between LA and Pasadena that would benefit from frequent direct trips into Downtown LA – when the Regional Connector comes online that would have needed this direct tie in of service that the Commuter Rail model would have missed out on.

On the NEC, electrification cost $2 million per km, after severe cost escalation. The Gold Line cost about $60 million per km, not counting the Eastside extension. The incremental cost of running EMUs over DMUs on legacy track (which, by the way, isn’t that narrow in the sections we’re discussing) is nothing compared to the cost of building brand new light rail.

Direct trips from the exurbs aren’t worth this extra cost. Systems all over the world are based on transfers. Commuter rail gets people to the city center, and then they switch to trams or the subway. LAUS can even time those transfers. Configuring the station for timed cross-platform Gold Line/commuter rail transfers would probably cost much less than building light rail to the exurbs.


Let me clarify on which narrow sections I’m refering to.

First off the original bridges were single track instead of double track (I will admit some could have been done as Single track for the Commuter Rail option), the right-of-way the crossed busy Colorado Blvd in Pasadena is only wide enough for a single track and you need at least two tracks and decent station coverage to serve Downtown Pasadena and Old Town.

In Highland Park, the “slow” section down Marmion Way if a station were to have been built would require a wider right of way for the wider EMU vehicles.

These are all factors that have to be included when trying to develop this corridor to be a “legacy” Commuter rail corridor that can string up electric catenary because the corridor in question needed to be re-built in order to get ‘Commuter’ rail service to operate on it which the study I mentioned in 1994 realized clearly as one of the factors.

I would like to get some old photos of what this right-of-way looked like c.1994-95 and let me tell you it needed rebuilding at that time.

Also as a point of clarification Alon as you’ve been glued to the 80km or 50 mile distance, the 50 mile distance would have been from Long Beach to Azusa with each leg from Downtown being between 22-25 miles in length. Operationally there’s a good chance that they may not link these lines together because of the operating length and instead work with more managable route segments that are 20-30 miles a piece.

However I do recognize why this is the way it is and that is for the general public to understand the possibilities during the Regional Connector EIR/EIS.

Also as a point of mentioning for this route that some can get hung-up on the end-to-end Downtown to Azusa segment (Personally I’m only in favor of getting the line to Azusa/Citrus College and that’s it!) and thats the factor of the 210 freeway congestion and there’s a destination in the middle of this route that would help to give a good rider turnover to this LRT and that’s in Pasadena.

22-25 miles from downtown is still very long for light rail. This isn’t how most successful light rail lines look – they’re much shorter (the Blue Line is about the only exception, but it’s well-anchored at its outer end). The New York City Subway has one line that goes this far out, the A to the Rockaways, and the ridership on its outer segments is abysmal; and the A connects to many more destinations than any line in LA could hope to. The problem with this length isn’t operational; it’s that even rapid transit can’t be fast enough at this distance to serve more than work trips to downtown.

Is the ROW for the Foothills as bad as the ROW for Pasadena was?

“I still don’t get why 7th is so superior to Civic Center. Sorry.”

No worries. Another piece to may help you understand as to why 7th Street Metro Center is an important station to Los Angeles is that at 7th Street Metro Center serves the heart of our Financial District and where most of the jobs and destinations around Downtown are anchored by.

Civic Center is a center in name only were the biggest factor in going to the Civic Center quite honestly is Jury Duty.

7th Street Metro Center is akin to NYC subway’s Union Square or Columbus Circle Stations where its a major interface between the busy lines as well as serve on the street as village like core centers in the activity of the city.

Jerard, on the contrary, you want people to transfer away from the busiest stations whenever possible. Forcing people to transfer at the busiest O&D stations just clogs those stations further.

Actually, when you’re starting a system you want to develop them at points of highest activity and build the stations appropriately to that activity.

Having another transfer point arbitrarely is not a good way of developing a system.

How old is NYC system and many other systems around the world? Its a lot older and mature than our Metro, thats for sure.

In addition to that the station in question with the Regional Connector project there is the works the additional Station serving 4th Street and Bunker Hill which would relieve the passenger strain of 7th Street Metro Center because these are destinations that are close to 7th Street Metro Center. So there’s more than one way to build the system and relieve these strains.

Jerard, having more transfer points is always good. Remember that what you’re arguing for here isn’t putting a transfer at 7th instead of Civic Center, but dropping Civic Center without any alternative.

There’s more than one way to build the system, but LA is going about thinking it’s special instead of learning from recent successes and failures in other cities. The Regional Connector’s current plan, for example, reminds me the most of the clusterfuck that is the routing of the Canada Line in downtown Vancouver. The long lines deep into suburbia are no different from failed BART projects like the SFO extension and the Pleasanton and Livermore branch. The splitting of the Green Line precisely where it needs the most frequency, at LAX, is just generally dumb (and so is the idea of forcing transfers on airport travelers, who’re the most anti-transfer group of riders).

You don’t need to study old transit systems – new ones such as those in Vancouver (outside the downtown transfer issue), Calgary, Montreal, Sydney, Toulouse, Lyon, Washington, Copenhagen, and Singapore all have ideas LA should learn from. But all of those cities are doing far better than LA, and you’ll find that those that do best are precisely those that avoid 50-mile lines.

“22-25 miles from downtown is still very long for light rail. This isn’t how most successful light rail lines look – they’re much shorter (the Blue Line is about the only exception, but it’s well-anchored at its outer end).”

There is a case as I mentioned in the previous post about the Pasadena factor. That would is a mid-point ridership anchor for both ends of the line as it currently is. Also a factor that must be included in looking at how rail networks are developed are the density and land-use patterns along the area. In LA there are not as concentrated nor have the traditional core-wedding cake pattern where density tapers significantly away from the ‘downtown’.

“The problem with this length isn’t operational; it’s that even rapid transit can’t be fast enough at this distance to serve more than work trips to downtown.”

Again another reason why LA is building its system differently that what was traditionally done is because of ridership and density patterns are different from other cities. If this had been heavy rail it would be a very expensive proposition that wouldn’t get enough ridership to justify the expense.

Because you have to remember there is more than one ‘Downtown’ per se in the Los Angeles region and minus a few corridors like Wilshire, Vermont and Whittier – in that order – can justify a heavier capacity rail from the start.

Commuter Rail in some cases would be underserving a market that needs the frequency of service to make ridership pan-out.

“Is the ROW for the Foothills as bad as the ROW for Pasadena was?”

The section between Sierra Madre to roughly Monrovia would need to be rebuilt. East of Monrovia is a fairly active freight corridor and a wide right-of-way that would make this possible.

“There’s more than one way to build the system, but LA is going about thinking it’s special instead of learning from recent successes and failures in other cities.”

By whom, Alon Levy?

One thing that you have to understand is the funding mechanism. Which I will admit is a pure mess because its based on a LA COUNTY WIDE sales tax. So like it or not sub-regions are playing political chicken with some lines however for the most part there are key high use corridors within the network that will work well.

“The Regional Connector’s current plan, for example, reminds me the most of the clusterfuck that is the routing of the Canada Line in downtown Vancouver.”

So would a transfer at Civic Center really make that much of a difference to making the Regional Connector project appear better in your eyes? Even when at the connectors core, there will be two main transfers at two main destinations and auxillary stations serving the same areas to improve capacity and expand network.

“The long lines deep into suburbia are no different from failed BART projects like the SFO extension and the Pleasanton and Livermore branch.”

Wait a minute, I thought it was important to connect to airports because our Green Line was built in a retarded fashion, yet BART builds its line out to the Major International Airport and ridership doesn’t pan out?

“You don’t need to study old transit systems – new ones such as those in Vancouver (outside the downtown transfer issue), Calgary, Montreal, Sydney, Toulouse, Lyon, Washington, Copenhagen, and Singapore all have ideas LA should learn from. But all of those cities are doing far better than LA, and you’ll find that those that do best are precisely those that avoid 50-mile lines.”

But you’ve failed to even read what I’ve replied to thus far because those cities have land-use components that make the decision of the transit go hand and hand.

Their regions are compact by their very design compared to LA. However LA is in a bit of a hybrid, Los Angeles for better or worse (depending on the viewpoint) is following a similiar model.

For some corridors, such as the 22 mile Blue Line, if it took the “other model” it would have ended its line at Compton because it would be under 15 miles from the core of Downtown, however ridership wouldn’t pan out because it’s not reaching a destination on the end which is Long Beach. Let’s face it, in Los Angeles region, some destinations are far away from others and in some cases would need to develop the network linking regional destination connectivity.

I like how Alon ranks on BART all of the time but then puts Sydney , which has a commuter rail hybrid system much like BART’s down as an example that LA should follow. CityRail runs farout into the suburbs with metro like service in the CBD. Sounds like BART to me.

If BART had modernized legacy track in the suburbs (*cough* Caltrain *cough*) instead of building brand-new broad-gauge tracks in freeway medians serving parking lots, it would have performed a lot better. Besides which, Sydney currently has nothing as stupid as the San Jose extension…

This might have made a lot more sense if they didn’t rip up all the rail lines they said they didn’t want.

Besides this, to consider, the Orange Line, along with the route of the extension, would be more appropriate as Metrolink in the form of EMUs. Some cities like Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Ottawa fuck up by ripping out rail lines and using them for busways. Hartford is doing the same, and apparently, so might Winnipeg.

What anchor is there for the Foothills extension that’s on a par with Long Beach?

Also: the problem with BART to SFO isn’t the idea of sending the train to the airport – it’s the implementation. The train runs in a subway through suburbia, on a circuitous route. It splits right before the airport, with one branch going to SFO and another to Millbrae; when BART tried to establish SFO-Millbrae shuttles for the benefits of Caltrain passengers, the unions shot the proposal down. This means that Caltrain-SFO connections are actually worse than they were before the extension opened, because the shuttle buses were cut, and the people mover was never extended to Millbrae. For all the talk about having a BART station at the terminals, only one terminal is served – the others require a people mover anyway.

On par with Long Beach, Theres not one large anchor series of anchors per se like its in Long Beach.

However there are a few that are along this corridor on an existing right of way -to Azusa- that are growing and densifying around the current anchors that will be served with the Foothill extension.

Arcadia – Bus shuttle to Santa Anita racetrack and Arboretum close to redvelopment of Downtown Arcadia.

Monrovia – its engaging in aggresive redevelopment around the old Monrovia depot and Downtown Monrovia.

Irwindale station would function primarily as Park-Ride feeder station since it is surrounded by mostly industrial uses and can be easily developed into the large park-ride facilities that would help facilitate trips that are going toward Pasadena and Downtown LA.

Duarte – City of Hope Medical Research facility and Cancer Hospital that houses thousands of employees (over 3000 and growing)

Azusa – Azusa Pacific and Citrus College campuses would be served to this station that would link these students to jobs and access to Pasadena and beyond. Both schools have over 10,000 students and faculty on any given day both of these schools are engaged in an aggressive campus expansions.

As for the second phase of the extension:

Glendora: Stops near a commercial district along Historic Route 66, also within walking distance of residential areas.

San Dimas: Stops (hopefully, last I heard the location was still undetermined) near the historic downtown core which is a commercial center surrounded by residential areas. It may also connect to a nearby park and ride facility.

La Verne: University of La Verne, the Fairplex (Where the County Fair is), and La Verne’s historic downtown core which is both a commercial and residential hub.

North Pomona: Transfer to Metrolink, huge redevelopment potential in the area around the station.

Claremont: The second Metrolink transfer, The Claremont Village (historic downtown core again), The Claremont Colleges, ample bus connections here, the botanic garden to the north, not to mention the large number of nearby senior housing.

Montclair: This brings the line just far enough into San Bernardino County to interface with other regional bus operators (as well as the last Metrolink transfer point) at the transit center just past the county line. It’s also adjacent to a major commercial center (Montclair Plaza).

The vast majority of the stations on this half of the extension are merely rebuilding a former rail system. The majority still have historic stations in place surrounded by old historic districts that are thriving, walkable, mixed use areas. The rail line is what started these communities and it means that there is still a mixed density pattern which might be well suited to a light-rail line.

This is what people mean when they say the line is ready and waiting to be built – so much of the infrastructure is already in place. As for insisting that speed is the limiting factor in ridership, why did no one suggest reinstating express service once the line is extended far enough to support such service?

The worst part about the BART-to-SFO extension was that it reduced transit use overall in San Mateo County.

SamTrans, the county’s bus system, saw a greater drop in bus usage than BART had gained. San Mateo County also had to pay for BART by cutting bus service, as it is not a member of the BART district.

The pent-up demand for rail transit in LA is demonstrated by the Green Line, which runs from “nowhere to nowhere” in a hideous freeway median — yet is very busy and popular. I doubt you can go wrong with rail in LA right now.

LA is one transit starved city. Too bad there isn’t more federal money to throw around. Definitely think the two lines of the Subway to the Sea should be a main priority as those will be immensely popular as the corridors already have a fair bit of density. The 405 is also a hugely popular corridor. Hard to find a suitable mode for that corridor though due to the huge mountain. Wonder what they will end up using.

The 405 is also a hugely popular corridor. Hard to find a suitable mode for that corridor though due to the huge mountain.

If GSV is right, maximum grade of I-405 is 5 %. This is all right for virtually every LRV ever built. Métro cars and european style mainline EMUs are AFAIK built for 4 % grades – they’re usually poweful enough to climb 5 %, but they would need more braking power (I guess that fitting electromagnetic brakes could do the job) and stronger hand brake.

Brandi wrote:

LA is one transit starved city.

You misspelled “rail.”

Our transit is mostly buses, for better or worse. We do have the second-busiest bus system in the U.S., but we overrely on buses. Some of these rail projects, namely the Wilshire subway, rectify that problem.

Wow. I enjoyed reading all of your comments! Would love to see SFV to LAX; red line to Burbank Airport and most importantly, renaming the lines so that gold is broken up and tied to the green and blue lines. SFV to South Bay should be one solid line and not three (405, Crenshaw & Green). As the network grows, the lines should be combined into full cross county routes and not individual spurs.


On your map the opening date for the Exposition Line phase 1 is 2015 when it’s in fact scheduled to open sometime between December 2010 and early 2011. Also you are missing the Westwood station on the Exposition Line phase 2. Sorry to nitpick.

Hey Yonah,

I was wondering if you could share where you got your information regarding the “Other Proposed Projects” outlined on this map? I am very interested in what is coming after 30/10.


Perhaps it’s my experience with living in China (and in a small town in the interior) that’s showing, but I have a daring suggestion for LAX. Everyone complains that LAX is an overcrowded slice of hell on earth (and one of my earliest memories involves jostling around the airport as a four year old), but no one has a clear solution other than the constant facelifting.

I propose that a new super-LAX, with three or four super-terminals be built on the southwest end of Edwards AFB, with plenty of flat and empty space devoid of fog or nearby residents, permitting 24/7 operation and avoiding any weather problems. The site is right next to the CHSR route, permitting easy access to anywhere in SoCal. Land acquisition costs would be zero, and a fortune can be made by developing the old LAX. The land value in the surrounding area will soar as the noise problem disappears, translating to higher property revenue for the city.

But I can dream, since that probably won’t happen given the inability of politicians to think longer than four (or two) years.

The military will never give up Edwards AFB land for free. *eyeroll*.

Yeah, you’re used to living in China, where the government acts as one unified entity….

I’ll reply just because I can.

If my “super-LAX” plan is to be realized, the White House undoubtedly will bless it due to the project’s sheer size and importance. Unless the US is a South American-style Banana Republic, the military *will* give up its land if the Commander-in-Chief orders them to do so.

Finally, the “government” in China is not a monolith as westerners see it. Local Party officials routinely squabble over tiny things which invariably are contaminated by the need to maintain face. Mao may have stated that “the Party must control the gun, the gun must never control the Party”, but the military continues to play a role in Party affairs. For instance, a key reason why Chinese airports have miserable punctuality rates is the fact that the military is reluctant to give up control of more airspace to civilian flights.

Oh, the military would give the land up… but not for FREE. The airport department would have to funnel tonnes of money to the military in compensation, probably build them a new base.

And the US is very close to a banana republic, just so you know. It’s been a problem.

Shouldn’t the 30/10 plan be based on the Get L.A. Moving Plan. I think that plan works perfectly.

GLAM has best case map approach which is aspirational, but in some cases not practical and omits the utility of Streetcars in some cases.

For example, it advocates extending the Purple Line east, but the density there is better suited for Light Rail. It does make good suggestions for Heavy Rail and extending north from North Hollywood. But that line should stop at Burbank Airport. I like a heavy rail line on the I-405 corridor from Sylmar to LAX be be less prone to delay factors traveling further South. I also like the the idea of extending a line through Torrance and Carson to Long Beach State University.

Some of the extensions like the one to Cerritos seems superfluous and not cost justifiable. Its more important to extend the Green Line grade separated to the Norwalk/Santa Fe Transit Center to meet up with Metrolink, Amtrak and California HSR by 2019-20.

When it comes to density, rail advocates need to point out the fact that the primary concern isn’t merely residential density–i.e., where you sleep at night. Average trip length also contributes to the load on any road or transit system. Commercial and residential development along and near Wilshire Boulevard is still largely low-rise and non-dense, at least compared to places like Manhattan. But the traffic actually on the boulevard belies that.

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